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A Feast Unknown by Philip José Farmer

A Feast Unknown (1969)

by Philip José Farmer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Secrets of the Nine (1)

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English (3)  French (1)  All languages (4)
Showing 3 of 3
James Bond meets Edgar Rice Burroughs meets the trashiest erotica you can imagine. In my experience Farmer is generally a solid spinner of tales, but one whose stories at times don't hold together particularly well. I thought the first two thirds of this book was pretty spectacularly awful, and the last third was somewhat better (but not better enough to tempt me to seek out the next book in the series).

Perhaps, if I had been paying more attention, the "RinocEros" imprint would have tipped me off to expect incessant graphic descriptions of our of protagonist's oversized reproductive organ and its frequent emissions. The sex is indeed more or less nonstop, almost always quite violating, and described in excruciating detail in what an adolescent might be convinced is gritty street-wise slang.

You have to assume that it is meant to satirize really trashy adventure tales, but I don't really see that it has anything to say about them. ( )
  clong | Mar 17, 2018 |
I'm ambivalent about this book. I like it for its use of Tarzan and Doc Savage as templates for its two protagonists and for its "pulpy" theme of evil masterminds plotting global domination. I don't like its use of very graphic sex, violence and, particularly, sexual violence.

Apparently, Farmer wrote the book (and its sequels) as a satire of the pulp novels he evidently enjoyed as a youth, but extended the use of violence and what he appears to have perceived as a latent homo-eroticism, to the nth degree. This is a very explicit and graphic book and not for the easily shocked. If you like sex and violence, this is the book for you!

Personally, I enjoy Farmer's writing and inventiveness but could have done without the excessive shedding of bodily fluids of various descriptions. ( )
1 vote Michael.Rimmer | Mar 30, 2013 |
Pulp pastiche with added sex and violence.

Farmer was always fascinated with the pulps he read when a boy and once a professional writer returned to them repeatedly for inspiration. In this case we have a clash between Lord Grandrith (Tarzan) and Doc Caliban (Doc Savage) written for the erotic publishers, Essex House.

Narrated by Grandrith, the novel starts when his African home is attacked by the Kenyan army, the government seeing him as an 'white colonial' embarrassment they want rid of, and a group of Albanian mercenaries who want the secret of immortality. Later these two adversaries are joined by Doc Caliban, who is intent on revenge, being convinced that Grandrith abducted his cousin and lover. These foes chase Grandrith across the African plain until he reaches the home of the Nine, a group of nearly immortals, who control the potion that conveys long life. Caliban is another beneficiary of the Nine, and it is decreed that Grandrith and Caliban should fight to the death but not in the sacred chambers. Subsequently, Grandrith learns that the leader of the Albanian mercenaries has gone to England to capture his ancestral home and wife. Grandrith rushes back to England, Caliban follows him, everybody fights everybody until death or conciliation.

With Grandrith as narrator Farmer is able to to retell the story of Tarzan, creating hybrid ape-humans known as 'the people' who raised him without the traditional morality of the original character (although being a pulp hero this immorality can only go so far), and giving him 'Jack the Ripper' as his father (it later turns out that Caliban is his half-brother). Sadly Farmer has his narrator short-shift the interesting aspects of the story to concentrate on the action scenes. Rather than being exciting however, this turns out to be slightly wearying, especially in the second section of the novel, which is just one action scene after another. One reason for this could be the length of the novel, at over 250 pages it is significantly longer than most of the works it is pastiching - the original short sharp jolt being replaced by a constant bludgeoning. (Interestingly, this pulp attitude now appears to inform the modern blockbuster - overcome by a fear of the audience losing interest, editing becomes ever more kinetic - the end result often being the audience losing interest).

So on the whole this is a pure pulp novel - lots of action, unbeatable heroes, secret societies, etc - but with added violence and sex. It is revealed early in the novel that both Grandrith and Caliban have started to have orgasms when they kill with their bare hands, although neither can understand why. The overblown way Farmer portrays the sex (both the men and women are physically cartoonish) and the violence is meant as satire but Farmer undermines his own work by the affection he feels for the original pulps - he can't bring himself to portray Grandrith and Caliban as either socio- or psycho-paths. Without re-imagining the characters within these new sexual and violent boundaries the novel reads less like a successful satire than a gratuitous children's adventure story. Time has possibly done this novel few favours as the idea of a violent sociopathic hero is now almost de rigeur in the pulp/comic arena. This leaves the sexual element, sex still being a predominately no-go area in this type of fiction: for a novel written for pornographic publishing house, the actual sex is relatively tame and sparse, with only a couple of scenes, male rape and genital mutilation, that some readers may find distasteful. But these readers will be few and far between because the line of acceptability has moved so beyond where it was in 1968.

Unfortunately, without either the novelty or shock value to boost it, Farmer's novel is little more than a adult pulp novel, as he has little of interest to say about the themes of sex and violence raised by his story, nor is he capable of a post-modern deconstruction of pulp heroes. Arguably the most interesting reading of this work now is one that Farmer and his publishers may not have intended - that of the homo-eroticism of both his and the original pulp characters.

As an action novel with a twist, A Feast Unknown is competent, if a little dull. As a novel exploring the nature of pulp heroes, A Feast Unknown raises interesting questions but lacks the will, or skill, to answer them. ( )
3 vote Jargoneer | Feb 17, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip José Farmerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Woodroffe, PatrickCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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an Evolution
two tongues Touch
a Feast unknow
to stone
or tree or beast
May Swenson
First words
Editor's Note Lord Grandrith has written nine volumes of autobiography, totalling close to a million and a half words.
Foreward Since the first eight volumes of his memories have not yet been published, Lord Grandrith has written a special forward which encapsulates the early part of Volume 1.
The morning of March 21, 1986, was a fine morning.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The diaries of Lord Grandrith, the legendary Apeman, Lord of the Jungle and bastard son of Jack the Ripper. Blessed with unnatural long life, his power brings with it a gruesome side effect - one shared by his nemesis, the formidable Doc Caliban, Man of Bronze and Champion of Justice. But these two titans have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Who are the dark manipulators of their destiny?… (more)

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